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Democrats For Missile Defense

Riki Ellison, president and founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) June 11, 2007
An op-ed last week in Space News provided significant support for our assessment that the new Democrat-controlled 110th Congress wants to praise ballistic missile defense, not bury it. In it, Ellison, one of the most influential proponents of the Bush administration's BMD program, not only comes to the conclusion that Democrats and Republicans in Congress now agree on almost all funding issues associated with BMD, he also pointed out that after decades of opposing, or appearing to oppose, any costly and ambitious U.S. ballistic missile defense program on principle, the Democrats have now embraced it.

The article by Riki Ellison, president and founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, was originally published on June 5 in Space News.

At a time of growing international tensions, especially with Russia and China, this robs the Republicans of a monopoly on an increasingly popular issue.

"Throughout the past 25 years, missile defense has been perceived and considered a Republican platform position. Now the Democratic majority in Congress is challenging this perception and reality," Ellison wrote.

Ellison acknowledged that the majority Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives had just approved a defense appropriations bill for fiscal year 2008 that included more than $10 billion in funding for BMD programs.

"More remarkable was the overall House vote of 397 to 27 to add an additional $200 million for missile defense above the President George W. Bush's 2008 budget request," he wrote.

Ellison noted that the House therefore approved no less than 96 percent of what the Bush administration had asked for to continue funding BMD. And the request looks likely to be passed into law with little -- if any -- attempt to scale it back. On May 24 the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is now also controlled by Democrats, approved a very similar appropriations bill for $10.1 billion in BMD funding.

And as Ellison pointed out, the Senate committee's markup "included an additional $75 million above the administration request to come in at 98 percent of the president's request for missile defense."

Ellison justly concluded, "This is quite a statement of support for missile defense by the Democrat-controlled House and Senate.

"Most notably the Democratic majority has fully funded all of the current and soon to be deployed U.S. systems. ... (Therefore) a bipartisan response to ballistic missile threats as well as support for our military's missile defense clearly has become a matter of fact and not a consequence of partisan politics."

There are many reasons for the dramatic shift in the Democrats' congressional position on BMD that Ellison notes. Democratic congressmen from states where lucrative and job-rich contracts for BMD development are placed, especially California, can be expected to be alert to these concerns. It is no secret that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Ellen Tauscher, chair of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, are both California Democrats.

Within days of Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, the three main contractors for the Airborne Laser, announcing they were joining together to argue against funding for further ABL research and development, including a crucial upcoming test, being cut from the 2008 defense appropriations legislation, Tauscher had restored it in a revision of an earlier markup. The big defense contractors still carry powerful clout, especially when they are working together -- and the Democrats on Capitol Hill know it.

The terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the ongoing war in Iraq have brought home to Americans that the world remains a dangerous place, and it is getting more so all the time. Also, after 12 years in the political wilderness, congressional Democrats now hold real power, and therefore real responsibility again in running both chambers of the U.S. Congress. This has affected their changing perceptions of BMD as well.

But most of all, though no congressional Democrat will understandably every publicly admit it, the biggest reason for their change on BMD is because of President Bush. His hard-charging determination on developing the program has brought real results.

BMD still has a long way to go, but for short- and intermediate-range missiles, it really works, which is why nations like Japan, Taiwan and India are so eager to develop it.

And even for the far more difficult challenges of intercepting and destroying the greatest threat -- intercontinental ballistic missiles -- last September's successful test of one by a Ground-based Midcourse Interceptor marked an epochal breakthrough.

Previously skeptical but patriotic and honorable Democratic members of Congress therefore took power to be confronted with BMD technologies that already actually worked or clearly showed great promise of doing so in the foreseeable future. This was a very different picture from the science fiction vision of a Star Wars BMD system that did not yet exist and that would be based on weapons systems that were still in the realm of fantasy.

Congress is a nuts-and-bolts institution. Its members understand tangible programs, clearly defined budget projections and timetables for development.

President Bush changed the reality with his drive to develop BMD, and the Democrats who run Congress have acknowledged that changed reality. But politics is about the present, not the past. Republicans used to hammering the Dems because of their supposed blanket opposition to BMD had better find a different issue. That old horse won't run anymore.

Source: United Press International

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